Originally created 11/09/99

Jacksonville becoming this year's Juggernaut



JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars can stifle the talk about taking it one game at a time. Nobody believes that anymore.

In almost every way, the Jaguars look like a team destined for the Super Bowl.

The defense has been unexpectedly dominant. The offense is hitting its stride. The schedule plays right into their hands.

At this point, there seems to be little that can prevent the Jaguars, 30-7 winners over the Falcons on Sunday, from making a return trip to Atlanta to play for the title in January.

One candidate: the Miami Dolphins, who reached the halfway point of the season tied with the Jaguars for the best record in the NFL at 7-1.

That argument aside, the Jaguars are playing so well that even Mr. Tunnel Vision -- coach Tom Coughlin -- is willing to look beyond next week's game.

"We're very much aware of the big picture," Coughlin said. "As long as our players are mature about it, and realize the amount of sacrifice and effort that goes into each game, then I don't have a problem with it."

The players have the same attitude.

"You would like to say you want to take it one step at a time," said running back Fred Taylor. "But everybody knows what each team's goal is. That's to get to the Super Bowl. When you're playing as good as we are, you have to sit back and say, `Don't get too cocky or too confident. Go out there and play the same every week.' We see the big picture."

It's a pretty one, thanks to a defense that recorded nine sacks against Atlanta, nearly a third of what it had all last season.

Of course, comparisons to last season are passDe by now. Instead, the defense can legitimately be stacked against some of the greatest ever, at least statistically.

A team that gave up 50 points to the Vikings in a single game last season has allowed 76 through eight games this year. That surpasses the 1991 Saints for fewest points allowed through the first half of a season this decade.

The Jaguars remain on pace to break the 1986 Chicago Bears record for fewest points allowed in a 16-game season. They're ranked first overall on defense, allowing just 237 yards per game. Kevin Hardy and Tony Brackens are ranked first and second in the league with 7 1/2 and 7 sacks, respectively.

"It's a good feeling, knowing we're being compared to some of the best defenses in NFL history," said safety Carnell Lake. "I think if we can continue what we're doing, we'll be on track to be very dominant."

The offense seems headed down the same road, having scored 71 points in the last two games. Mark Brunell had his first three-touchdown game of the season Sunday and improved his passer rating to 81.2.

The improvement has coincided with the return of Taylor, who has a pair of 100-yard games since coming back. His performances, plus the solid fill-in work by James Stewart, has the Jaguars ranked first in the league in rushing.

"If the defense gets us the ball in good field position, we can put points on the board," Taylor said. "Yesterday should have been a 45-50-point game, easy. We just have to stay consistent and not relax on offense when we get ahead."

The Jaguars play five of their last eight games at home and only two against teams with winning records, Tennessee and Pittsburgh. But the Titans and Steelers might not be Jacksonville's prime concern anymore.

Only Miami has played with the same consistency and effectiveness as the Jaguars have this year. Coughlin said he caught the end of Miami's 17-0 victory over Tennessee late Sunday, a win that put the Jaguars alone in first place in the AFC Central.

"They look strong, they played well," Coughlin said. "They played good defense and didn't turn it over. Sound familiar?"

Indeed it does.